Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Oldest Parsi high priest is a lawyer, flautist

By Nauzer K Bharucha / TNN

Perhaps for the first time in the more than 1,300-year history of the Parsis in India, the community’s oldest high priest at age 83, was anointed at Navsari in Gujarat on Tuesday. Kaikhusro Navroz Dastoor Meherjirana, a respected scholar priest, is interestingly also an advocate, author of two books on banking law and a student of Indian classical music.

The newly-appointed Parsi high priest (Vada Dastur), who lives in Mumbai, plays the flute and is a follower of the Kirana gharana of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, and particularly of the late singer Gangubai Hangal of Hubli. During his youth, KND, as he is popularly known in community circles, used to frequently give musical recitals on the All India Radio in Vadodra for which he was paid Rs 30 per show in those days.

“It will be my endeavour to attend to the controversial problems of the community with all love, sincerity and understanding, and without an iota of malice or hatred. Only on failing that I may take the help of my legal experience of half a century,” he told TOI on Wednesday.

On Saturday, Dastoor’s predecessor—Dastur Meherji Dastur Kaikobad Meherjirana, of the renowned Meherjirana gaadi (seat) of Navsari—passed away. Suddenly, there was turmoil in the community because he had no issue who could take over from him. Besides, nobody who had the necessary qualifications was available.

“Centuries long traditions requires that the new high priest be appointed on the third (Uthamna) day of the predecessor’s death. There is a Bhagarsath Anjuman Committee of Mobeds which is traditionally authorised to make the appointment. Time was short. My two brothers and I were the only persons available. I consulted them. They pressed me to accept, so also other prominent Parsis. An urgent meeting was called and the appointment was made. Due ceremonies were performed on the same day and the early hours of the next day, and here I am,” said Dastoor, who is also a relative of the deceased high priest.

Incidentally, Dastoor is the 17th high priest to be appointed from the priestly Meherjirana family of Navsari. The first Meherjirana (1510-1590) was anointed as high priest sometime in the late 16th century and was a honoured guest in Emperor Akbar’s court.

The late religious scholar Jivanji Mody had noted, “Akbar’s principal teacher in Zoroastrian lore was was Dastur Meherjirana, a leading mobed or theologian, whose acquantaince he had made at the time of the seige of Surat in 1573, when the imperial army was encamped at Kenkra Khari. Even at that early date, Akbar was so eager to learn the mysteries of Zoroastrianism, that he extracted all the information he could from the Dastur, and pursuaded him to come to his court in order to continue discussion.” Akbar later gifted him 200 acres of land at Gelkhari village near Navsari.